Kicking the Tweets

Entries in Empire Brings Sexy Back/The [2013] (1)


The Empire Brings Sexy Back (2012)

Cloud Nine in Cloud City

Let's begin today with some A's for Q's likely running through your head:

Hey, didn't this used to be a movie-review site?

It still is, but I understand your concern. For the fourth time in as many months, I've set aside space to discuss a live stage show taking place in Chicago--which, for my UK and Boise readers, must be doubly frustrating. In fairness, seventy-five percent of these productions are movie parodies (and the remaining quarter was, at least, written by Clive Barker).

Are you in the pocket of Gorilla Tango Theatre?

No. As fate would have it, I've attended three of their shows--all of which were uniformly awesome. I'm ready and willing to attack bad theatre, but the crazy-talented folks at GTT refuse to give me an opening. Bastards.

Are you seriously telling me that there's still humor to be mined from Star Wars?

Oh, yes. Though the Seths (Green and MacFarlane) have built empires of cash by ripping George Lucas to loving, comedic shreds, they've yet to go where no man has gone before: burlesque satire. As a lifelong Jedi-at-heart, I was skeptical going into The Empire Brings Sexy Back: A Star Wars Burlesque Sequel. But writer K Leo and director/choreographer MsPixy have not only upheld Gorilla Tango's recipe of adding pureed pop culture to roiling, unabashed sexuality, they've broken new ground in dissecting the thirty-five-year-old franchise's significance.

Narrated by an Imperial Officer (Zatanna Zor-Elle), the show looks at the events of The Empire Strikes Back through the prism of a government fending off terrorist attacks. Luke Skywalker (Trixi Kidd*), Princess Leia (Inara Rose), Han Solo (Ann Hauserbush), and their rebel friends are the enemy here, causing destruction and grief for noble, put-upon bureaucrat, Darth Vader (Dottie Comm). Star Wars fans will recognize all the big story beats from Lucas's classic film, including the Hoth invasion, Luke's training sessions with Yoda (Mia Atari), and the lightsaber showdown atop Cloud City. The big difference is characterization, with rebels and dark-siders alternately trying to kill and hook up with one another. In a galaxy far, far away, war isn't hell--it's horny.

This could have been a "greatest-hits-with-jokes-and-tits" production, but The Empire Brings Sexy Back has a solid through-line, as well as a handful of brilliant detours into the unexpected. The big reveal regarding Luke's paternity is handled as a Jerry Springer segment, and Han's climactic carbonite-imprisonment scene takes on a mind-blowing new dimension when accompanied by Queen's eerily perfect "Bohemian Rhapsody". That sequence has been stuck in my head for days now, and I'm still taken with the humor, vulnerability, and heart that Hauserbush brought to what should have been a campy flashlight show played for easy laughs. In a cast of stand-out performers, she shines the brightest.

Indeed, the best reason to see this show--and any Gorilla Tango production, in my experience--is the passion and imagination that's evident in every detail. From Kristen Ahern's inventive costumes, which tweak the film's iconic designs with modern, risqué touches, to MsPixy's effective use of the stage in creating innovative blocking, movement, and prop work, I didn't feel like I was watching a low-rent, "cute" version of The Empire Strikes Back. I dare say there's probably little difference between the work that went into figuring out how to bring the Star Wars experience to a black box stage and the feats Lucas and company pulled off when creating the Death Star. If you doubt this after seeing the levitating lightsaber trick and applause-worthy opening crawl, drop me a line and we'll chat--briefly.

I don't mean to sell the performers short with my high-minded analysis of the show's craftsmanship. If all you care about are curvy women shaking pasties and prancing around an intimate stage, you'll find plenty to marvel at here, executed with steamy professionalism. I'll admit, the Han/Leia courtship takes on a tempting new dimension when both characters are played by attractive, young women--but that gimmick would get old quickly without a solid foundation. 

It's fitting that The Empire Brings Sexy Back opened the same week that Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion (the move is addressed in an early sight gag). Beyond merchandising and film franchise rights, the Mouse House has also purchased a legacy. It's up to the suits to decide Star Wars' fate now, and I hope that whoever they put in charge has the same love, appreciation, and commitment to the series as this scrappy band of semi-nude nerf herders.

The Empire Brings Sexy Back plays Saturday nights through February 23, 2013 at Gorilla Tango Theatre (1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647). Click here for tickets and additional information.

*Ms. Kidd is listed as an understudy for Diva LaVida, who did not appear in the performance I attended. For the record, She was terrific in her dual roles as Luke and Boba Fett, whose character began the show in a state of undress and slipped on a sultry version of the famous Mandalorian armor piece by piece--an unexpectedly awesome reverse strip show.